Appendix B: Op-Ed Pieces

Op-ed submission:

If it were the case that cleaning up industrial agriculture’s inherent pollution was as easy as assigning personal responsibility for “burning leaves”, “second hand smoke”, or “pet poop”, I would agree with Bill Leonard’s letter objecting to the Register editorial calling for taxpayers’ help in paying to clean up ag’s pollution (“Why is it the taxpayers’ obligation, not farmers'”, Register 8-13).

But that is not the case. Ag’s pollution is a massive problem with millions of acres of row crops and thousands of confinements and feedlots in Iowa alone. And there are avenues of nutrient pollution, erosion, and flooding coming from this recent industrial model that no conservation practices, however well intentioned, can fix.

Because farmers did not choose this model, I am one who advocates for all of us to share in paying for a “transition” away from this inherently polluting, recent industrial – CAFO – Green Revolution – GMO model of ag that is now dominant.

There was a perfect storm after WWII consisting of Borlaug’s Green Revolution’s need for nitrogen fertilizer, chemical companies needing a market for their bomb-making explosive material (ammonium nitrate – nitrogen), and land grant colleges and universities being taken over by corporate ag input and output companies. Farmers did not understand the flooding, erosion, and perpetual pollution that would become the hallmark of this kind of agriculture. They simply did what land grant colleges and corporate ag interests told them, and sold them, to do.

I advocate for a transition to crops and cropping systems that are available today, that could be adopted into the farm bill today, that would recreate a sponge-like landscape (flooding), and re-perennialize our agriculture (erosion) without sacrificing our ability to feed ourselves or provide for our manufacturing needs. And, those crops and cropping systems would foster a non-polluting (no nutrient pollution), biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture that would mitigate the flooding, erosion, and nutrient pollution inherent in this current industrial model of agriculture (see www.civandinc.net appendix H).

Agriculture is how we as a nation (and the world) feed ourselves. And how, if it is done right, future generations will feed themselves. This is too serious a problem to tell farmers it is up to them to clean up this mess (impossible anyway with this industrial model) when we are all complicit (by our ignorance or silence) in its adoption.

Bob Watson
Decorah
bobandlinda@civandinc.net

 

Comments on IPP’s critique of the INRS

Although an adequate recitation of what is known, the Iowa Policy Project (IPP) critique of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) could have used a contextual story, a discussion of the inherent inability of any regime to address some pollution avenues from this recent industrial model of agriculture, and suggestions as to where agriculture needs to go in the future. While pointing out deficiencies like “voluntary only” and no numeric testing, limits, or reporting of nutrient pollution coming off farm fields (in this particular case pollution is being called proprietary trade secrets that supposedly can’t be made public; really? pollution?), IPP’s critique seems to go along with the notion that the future of agriculture is corn and beans, and feedlots and confinements. If one assumes that this recent post WWII industrial model is the future of agriculture, even if agriculture is regulated at some point in the future, we will never get rid of nutrient pollution, erosion, and flooding.

As Bonnie Blodgett, Minneapolis StarTribune columnist, commented to me: “I do think farmers got fed a line of bull by Big Ag and are now being told it’s their job to correct a problem that can’t be fixed within the current ag model.” As Bonnie alludes to, as long as we use this corn and beans, confinements and feedlot model of agriculture, we will have unsolvable pollution problems.

There are a number of non-point ag pollution avenues that simply cannot be addressed with either the conservation practices that are in the INRS or even any new future regulations. In fact, some of the INRS anti-pollution conservation practices actually pollute themselves.

When anhydrous ammonia is applied to crop fields, much of that ammonia volatilizes into the air. That ammonia, along with the ammonia that is blown out of confinements 24/7 365 days a year, make up the Midwest ammonia cloud which is concentrated over Iowa. The Iowa DNR has had conversations about and knows that when it rains and the ammonia precipitates out of the air as ammonium nitrate, that amount of ammonium nitrate is a significant contributor to the EPA imposed limit where ammonia is no longer a nutrient, but becomes a pollutant in our surface waters. What in the INRS, or any new regulation, addresses this pollution avenue?

With the prevailing winds, that ammonia cloud flows east and is a major contributor to the new acid rain: nitric acid rain. Nitric acid rain is doing the same sort of damage in the eastern US as the original sulfuric acid rain did. How does the INRS, or any new regulation, stop this pollution avenue?

As the IPP report made clear, nitrogen put on fields that isn’t used by the plants and that doesn’t run off in rain events, still would not be stopped even if buffer strips were used because some of it flows down through the soil profile and into field tiles. That untreated and unused nitrogen flows into Iowa’s 880,000 plus miles of field tile which lead directly to our surface and ground water, and eventually into our aquifers. How does the INRS, or any new regulation, affect this pollution avenue?
A long-term study of industrial nitrogen uptake, published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows nitrates from agricultural nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers could continue to leach into groundwater for at least 80 years after initial use. How does the INRS, or any future regulation, affect this time span pollution avenue?

It is known that organic nitrogen has always been in our surface waters. However, because the Green Revolution uses industrial fertilizers, today’s nitrogen is in the form of nitrate nitrogen rather than the historic organic nitrogen from animal and green manures. Even though organic nitrogen was in the surface waters, organic nitrogen needs to break down to be in a form that is available to plants. But the Green Revolution’s nitrate nitrogen is in a form that is readily available to algae and other biological organisms. This nitrate nitrogen, versus pre WWII organic nitrogen, leads directly to the algae blooms and other problems seen in our surface waters today. What in the INRS, or any new future regulation, addresses this new industrial form of nitrogen and its pollution avenue?

While the DNR contends confinements don’t need discharge permits for their fecal waste because they are zero discharge buildings, that is not true. Hog confinements actually discharge 100% of their waste (sewage actually) when it is spread on farm fields. And, that waste is no longer “valuable manure” but rather a brew of at least 130 toxic compounds that have cooked up into sewage during six months to a year in a pit directly beneath the animals, in a tank, or in a lagoon. Since this fecal hog waste is five times stronger (more polluting) than untreated human waste, and since there are always at least 15 million hogs in confinement at any one time in Iowa, this is like having 75 million people living in Iowa, collecting their waste, but cooking it instead of treating it, and then just dumping it on fields and calling it manure. That waste can then wash off the fields and into our surface waters during rain events. This is not, and never would be, allowed in the regulated point source sector. What in the INRS, or any new future regulation, addresses this pollution avenue?

A number of studies have shown that a new form of MRSA (an antibiotic resistant Staph infection) unique to hog confinement pigs, workers, and farm family members, can be acquired by people from simply being in contact with or in proximity to hog confinement waste spread on farm fields. How does the INRS, or any new future regulation, protect us from this harmful to human health pollution avenue?

The same “flowing down through the soil profile” process that we saw with the nitrogen from anhydrous is at work in field applied confinement waste, too. Because most of our rich organic biologically active topsoil is gone, and because the soil that is left has been drenched with chemicals for the last 50 years, that soil is not capable of treating much of the confinement waste. Hog waste that doesn’t run off in rain events and isn’t treated by the soil travels through field tiles and into our states waters. How can the INRS practices, or any new regulation, affect this untreated hog confinement sewage pollution stream going into tile lines?

Hog confinements, actually poorly designed and poorly operating wastewater technology, must exhaust the poison sewer gasses that are the continuous products of having anaerobic digestion taking place in their pits. Those sewer gasses, hydrogen-sulfide, ammonia, and methane, must be continuously vented out of the confinements into the surrounding neighborhoods or the pigs inside will die within 20 minutes. The resultant harmful human health effects for neighbors and the environmental damage from these gasses have been well documented. Along with our local lawsuit asking the EPA to regulate those poison sewer gasses through the Clean Air Act, we filed 177 medical and scientific studies showing detrimental human health and environmental effects from these gasses. If we continue to use confinements and feedlots, what in the INRS practices, or any new future regulation, would be able to affect the detrimental effects of these poison gasses?

Simply using no-till as a practice has resulted in new and expanding dead zones in the Great Lakes (and by extension, the Gulf of Mexico). It turns out that no-till releases “dissolved reactive phosphorus” from the soil. That phosphorus then runs into rivers and streams and then into the lakes leading to the dead zones and other problems we see in our waters (Toledo, Ohio’s drinking water problem in August of 2014). How does the INRS, or any new future regulation, affect this pollution avenue?

Pollutants from this industrial ag model are considered “externalities” by agricultural entities. The public is expected to bear the brunt of the cost, monetarily, human health wise, and environmentally, that these “externalities” bring. This is the basis of Bill Stowe’s “rate payer’s argument.” Ag pollutes the water and you pay to clean it up through ever higher water and sewer bills. As we have discussed, as long as we use this corn and beans, confinements and feedlot model of agriculture, we will always have unsolvable pollution problems.

Farmers have only followed what land grant colleges and corporate ag interests have told them, and sold them, to do. Farmers didn’t choose this industrial model. They didn’t understand the flooding, erosion, and nutrient pollution that would be caused by adopting this recent industrial model. And, they shouldn’t be made to bear the cost of transitioning to a new clean agriculture. We all should.

The IPP critique did not provide any suggestions about what kind of agriculture we could transition to that would mitigate nutrient pollution, erosion, and flooding. Thankfully, there are crops and cropping systems that are available today, that could be adopted today, which would recreate a sponge-like landscape and re-perennialize our agriculture without sacrificing our ability to feed ourselves or provide for our manufacturing needs. Those crops and cropping systems would foster a non-polluting, biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture that would mitigate the flooding, erosion, and nutrient pollution problems caused by this recently adopted industrial model of agriculture. (to see go to www.civandinc.net appendix H)

Bob Watson 563-379-4147 bobandlinda@civandinc.net www.civandinc.net
Decorah, IA

 

While a nice story, Bill Northey and Chuck Gipp’s “On The Right Path” (Register 7-3-14) is fiction.
Record nitrate levels in rivers are not fiction.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) is touted as being the vehicle to clean up Iowa’s and the Gulf’s waters. But the only part of that strategy that is regulated through the Clean Water Act, and therefore required to clean up its discharges, is the point source sector which only includes municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants. This is Bill Stowe’s “rate payers” argument. Ag pollutes – you pay to clean it up through ever increasing sewer and water rates.

The courts have held that the Clean Water Act cannot be used to regulate non-point dischargers, which is agriculture. So the agricultural non-point part of the INRS is on a voluntary basis only. And as record high levels of nitrates in rivers show, voluntary is not working so well.

It is known that nitrogen has always been in our rivers. Before World War II most nitrogen in our waters was from animal and green manure which had to break down before it could be used by plants. Rivers and streams were safe for human use. With the adoption of the Green Revolution and industrial fertilizers, however, that nitrogen is in the form of nitrates, which are readily available for algae and other plants. This nitrate nitrogen, unlike organic nitrogen, leads directly to the algae blooms and some of the other problems we see in our surface waters.

If we are going to continue mining our soil (two bushels of soil to produce one bushel of corn – the soil will be gone some day) to grow corn and soybeans (that is a debatable future), and if Gipp and Northey are actually serious about stopping nutrient pollution from coming off farm fields through flooding and erosion, then they should work towards getting the INRS’s STRIPS (10% of an annual field in native prairie strips stops 95% of erosion and therefore the nutrients attached to the soil particles) as a mandatory part of the farm bill.

Also, there are crops and cropping systems that are available today that could be adopted today which would recreate a sponge-like landscape, re-perennialize our agriculture, without sacrificing our ability to feed ourselves or provide for our manufacturing needs. Those crops and cropping systems would foster a non-polluting biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture that would mitigate the flooding and nutrient pollution problems caused by this recent industrial row crop model of agriculture. (to see go to www.civandinc.net appendix H)

The usual corporate ag apologist myth that is trotted out to justify growing corn and beans in Iowa, and the reason that we supposedly have to put up with this nutrient pollution, is that we feed the world. Hell, Iowa doesn’t even feed itself. We import 85% of our people food.

If Gipp and Northey really want to clean up Iowa’s waters, they should lobby Iowa’s US legislators to change the farm bill to adopt existing crops and cropping systems, including the “low hanging fruit” STRIPS (10% prairie gets rid of 95% erosion), that would mitigate pollution and still raise people food.

Understanding that farmers have only followed what land grant colleges and corporate ag interests have told them, and sold them, to do, prairie seed for that 10% of annual fields should be paid for by the US government. Farmers didn’t choose this industrial model. They didn’t understand the flooding and nutrient pollution that would be caused by adopting this recent industrial model. And, they shouldn’t be made to bear the cost of fixing it. We all should.

Right now some of us will be paying forever trying to deal with the problem (the Stowe argument). By changing the farm bill, we would all be paying for the solution.

Bob Watson

2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
www.civandinc.net
563-379-4147

Dear Editor,

It was somewhat disappointing to read the apparent ignorance of Iowa State professors in regard to where our state’s water pollution comes from (Sides clash over hog expansion, Register 6-8-14).

The accepted numbers are agriculture 92%, wastewater treatment plants 4%, and other 4% – although the “other’s” contribution is from the same chemicals as agriculture.

It is technically correct to say that “Cities are allowed to discharge treated sewage that still contains nitrates into waterways, under their Clean Water Act Permits. Hog producers, however, are prohibited from letting manure into Iowa waterways.” But it is somewhat disingenuous.

The relative ammonia/nitrogen pollution numbers for hog confinement waste and treated human waste is 300-400 for hog confinement waste and 1-5 for treated human waste (IDNR numbers). Although confinements are touted as not discharging waste, all of the waste is spread on the land eventually. Because of the relative numbers, it is like having 75 million people living in Iowa, collecting their waste and letting it “cook up toxics” for 6 months to a year in a pit, and then simply dumping it on the land where much of it ends up in our rivers and lakes (the 92% comes from somewhere).

As a result of treatment of human waste, the cleanest sections of most rivers are directly downstream of wastewater plant discharge pipes. Your water and sewer rates pay to clean and treat water for drinking, and for the treatment of your waste so it is safe to discharge back into the environment. That is mandated by the Clean Water Act.

There are no regulations or mandates on the 92% of pollution coming from agriculture. Until that changes, (and the completely voluntary Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy will not help) you will continue to pay higher and higher water and sewer rates while the waters of Iowa continue to become more and more polluted. Good luck.

Bob Watson

Decorah, IA
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
563-379-4147

 

Paying farmers to not pollute – Gazette letter 5-13-14.

Dear Editor,

According to Tim Smith, “Funding facilitates nitrate reduction” Gazette 5-12-14, we should be paying farmers to reduce their nitrate pollution. Should we also pay farmers to reduce this industrial model’s contribution to the loss of pollinators; pay them to stop their part in the honey bee colony collapse; pay them to stop soil erosion; flooding; dead zones; nutrient pollution to our surface, groundwater and aquifers; pay them to stop the poison sewer gasses, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, and the greenhouse and explosive gas methane coming from hog confinements; pay them to stop nitric acid rain from CAFOs and the volatilization of anhydrous ammonia; pay them to stop contributing to human health issues like antibiotic resistant bacteria including MRSA; asthma and other respiratory, digestive and nervous system diseases from CAFOs; pay them to stop contributing to obesity, diabetes and circulatory problems from highly processed foods; pay them to quit plowing up wildlife habitat; pay them to quit drenching soil organisms with chemicals; pay them to foster soil health and soil building; pay them to quit using GMOs, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides?

Wouldn’t it be much easier and cheaper to replace this industrial model of agriculture with crops and cropping systems that would foster a non-polluting biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture that doesn’t sacrifice our food and manufacturing needs, and that exists today and can be adopted today?

If you are curious about these crops and tired of hearing how we should pay farmers to quit polluting, go to www.civandinc.net appendix H. Get your legislators to change the farm bill and you will change agriculture. And, you will once again live in a healthy and non-polluted Iowa.

Bob Watson
Decorah, IA
bobandlinda@civandinc.net

The Dark Side of the Green Revolution – II (2014)

In light of the centenary celebration of his birth, we should remember there is a sense in which Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution can be viewed as one of the most serious and sustained human-caused pollution events in history.

Similar to US, Midwest, and Iowa farmers, other countries farmers’ use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides as part of the Green Revolution has resulted in dead zones, algae blooms and polluted surface and ground waters. Locally, Iowa’s impaired surface waters list is now well over 600. We find agricultural chemicals in the majority of our private wells. And, we have seen recent stories about poison algae blooms and Iowa’s contribution to the continuing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Again, like many agricultural areas in the US and around the world, because of drenching soils with chemicals for 50 plus years, the soils in some areas of the Punjab, India’s breadbasket, are now so polluted and bereft of beneficial biological organisms that crops can no longer be grown without the use of chemicals. And similar to what has happened to the Ogallala Aquifer, because of the Green Revolutions’ need for water, the Punjab’s and other water tables have been significantly lowered.

Although it has been claimed that the Green Revolution has saved millions from starvation, we know that millions of subsistence farmers have been put off the land through not having the capital resources for the machinery, chemicals and hybrid seeds required by the Green Revolution. Millions of people have moved into urban areas contributing to urban problems that come with over-population. Similar to the US’s illegal immigration problem, millions have been forced to migrate to other countries looking for work.

We have a tendency to pat each other on the back and give each other awards and accolades. Meanwhile, unintended, but very real, consequences are conveniently brushed aside and ignored.

Borlaug’s admonition that no food revolution will help unless we deal with the problem of over-population is seldom remarked upon. It should be. But, his Green Revolution is not the right agricultural model for the earth or for its people.

Bob Watson
Decorah, IA

 

Response to Gazette INRS (2-12-14)

To think that the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy can affect changes that would clean up this particular, recent, post WWII, soil losing, nutrient polluting, flood enhancing, hydrologically short circuiting, human health harming, petro/chemical/industrial, CAFO, Green Revolution, row crop model of agriculture is disingenuous.

As conservation band-aids these strategies are useless:

1. because there is no implementation instrument – making it a voluntary only program;

2. because of scale – millions of acres of corn and beans versus a few small conservation band-aid projects;

3. because there are practices included in these strategies that actually pollute themselves;

4. because there are practices included that short circuit hydrology contributing to flooding and not recharging our groundwater and aquifers;

5. and, because there is nothing in them that we did not know or could not have implemented years ago, and we haven’t.

These strategies are needed only if we assume we will continue with this corn – beans – confinement – feedlot model of agriculture.

We have a choice. We can continue with this inherently polluting, soil losing, petro/chemical/industrial agriculture. Or, we can switch to a non-polluting biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture that doesn’t sacrifice our food and manufacturing needs and that exists today and can be adopted today.

What this non-polluting agriculture might look like:

1. edible perennial prairie grains for humans and animals – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, no yearly tillage, builds soil, provides habitat, exists today – scaled up for sale to farmers by 2020;

2. strips of perennial native prairie in all annual fields – 10% of annual fields in strips stops 95% of soil erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

3. prairie and grass based animal farming – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

4. industrial hemp – cover crop, no chemicals if used in crop rotations, used with strips, provides habitat, provides food and fiber, replaces many oil based manufactured products, revitalizes rural America with factories and processing plants, 350 year history as a crop in North America;

5. small grains, hays, fruits, and vegetables – used with strips, provides habitat, builds soil.

What is at stake is our continued ability to feed ourselves. This current industrial model of agriculture is unsustainable and polluting. The biological organisms in our soil are being destroyed through years of chemical application. And through unsustainable erosion, even that polluted soil will someday be completely gone.

We still have a choice. We can switch to a non-polluting, clean, soil building agriculture if we want to.

Bob Watson

2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
563-379-4147
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
www.civandinc.net

 

 

Farm Bureau Keynote (12-7-13)

Dear Editor,

Re: “Iowa faces anti-ag attitude problem,” Des Moines Register 12-5-13.

To be against this particular, recent, post WWII, soil losing, nutrient polluting, flood enhancing, hydrologically short circuiting, human health harming, petro/chemical/industrial, CAFO, Green Revolution, row crop model of agriculture is not to be against agriculture.

To tell generations of Iowans who have lived and worked on farms that they just don’t understand agriculture is arrogant.

To call people who speak about this extremely important issue “anti-ag environmental zealots” is ignorant and smacks of right wing politics.

To lobby for the Renewable Fuels Standard without ever mentioning the massive nutrient pollution and soil erosion that accompanies those millions of acres of corn is unconscionable.

The Farm Bureau and its keynote speaker should be ashamed of themselves.

Argue the facts.

Bob Watson
Decorah

2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
563-379-4147
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
www.civandinc.net

Wallace Farmer op-ed: (12-6-13)

Although Iowa’s much ballyhooed “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy” is being billed as the way to fix the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and has been copied by Minnesota and others states, this approach to the problem of agricultural runoff and pollution is basically useless.

These strategies are useless:

1. because there is no implementation instrument – making it a voluntary only program;

2. because of scale – millions of acres of corn and beans versus a few conservation band-aid projects;

3. because there are practices included in these strategies that actually pollute;

4. because there are practices included that short circuit hydrology, contributing to flooding and not recharging our groundwater and aquifers;

5. and, because there is nothing in them that we did not know or could not have implemented years ago.

These strategies are needed only if we assume we will continue with this corn – beans – confinement – feedlot model of agriculture.

This intensive, petro-chemical, fossil fuel based, post WWII model of farming produces pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus, eroded topsoil, and toxic waste from confinements and feedlots – that have made our soil, water, and air a toilet for industrial agriculture. But the rest of society, as rate payers of water and wastewater treatment systems, and as people who live with the health effects of this pollution, bears the cost of what this industrial Green Revolution and CAFO agriculture considers “externalities.”

We have a choice: continue with this inherently polluting, soil losing, petro/chemical/industrial agriculture, or switch to a non-polluting, biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture, which will still meet our food and manufacturing needs.

What this non-polluting agriculture might look like:

1. edible perennial prairie grains for humans and animals – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, no yearly tillage, builds soil, provides habitat, exists today – scaled up for sale to farmers by 2020;

2. strips of perennial native prairie in all annual fields – 10% in strips stops 95% of soil erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

3. prairie and grass based animal farming – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

4. industrial hemp – cover crop, no chemicals if used in crop rotations, used with strips, provides habitat, provides food and fiber, replaces many oil based manufactured products, revitalizes rural America with factories and processing plants, 350 year history as a crop in North America;

5. small grains, hays, fruits, and vegetables – used with strips, provides habitat, builds soil.

What is at stake is our continued ability to feed ourselves. This current industrial model of agriculture is unsustainable and polluting. The biological organisms in our soil are being destroyed through years of chemical application. And through unsustainable erosion, even that polluted soil will someday be completely gone.

We still have a choice. The political process could help make that choice. Cities, counties, and individuals can use their political capital to push for changes in the farm bill to promote sustainable cropping systems (re-perennialize agriculture) – rather than policies that encourage all-out commodity production and subsidize clearing of fragile and virgin lands.

It is up to all of us to affect what happens in the future.

Bob Watson, Larry Stone

 

Conservation Band-Aids or Real Watershed Changes (12-5-13)

If your city or county is subject to flood issues, if your city’s water and sewer rates continue to climb because of increased regulation, you have the justification and political capital to become involved in and change why those things are happening to you.

This presentation will introduce crops and cropping systems which will mitigate future flooding and non-point ag pollution (the reason for your increased water and sewer rates) without sacrificing food and manufacturing needs.

We will introduce a language and contextual story many people may not be familiar with concerning descriptions of: why confinements and feedlots pollute; modern floods and their ag origins; the drought; non-point pollution and the “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy”; the link between food and fracking; and, the very important revitalization of rural America.

These descriptions will be followed by a prescription for creating a non-polluting, biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture (re-perennialize agriculture) which would mitigate many of the described problems. The descriptions of the problems may be different, but since they are all industrial ag related, the prescription for solving them is the same.

After this presentation, you will be able to use this language and contextual story to understand and discuss, or become involved in, these issues. And, you can use your city’s and county’s political capital to help create a new clean and healthy agriculture.

This presentation is an abridged and modified version of our two original presentations about the unintended consequences of CAFO’s and a watershed approach to floods. In this presentation we have introduced non-point ag pollution reduction (fecal material, nitrates, and phosphorus, etc.) as a third major focal point.

Some try to justify the pollution coming from industrial agriculture with the excuse that “we feed the world.” But Pam Johnson, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, seemed more concerned about fuel than food when she recently testified before Congress that the ag economy would “be in a deep recession” unless the Renewable Fuels Standard was reauthorized. So much for “we feed the world.”

The intensive, petro-chemical, fossil fuel based model of farming produces pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus, eroded topsoil, and toxic waste from confinements and feedlots – that have made Iowa a toilet for industrial agriculture. But the rest of society, as rate payers of water and wastewater treatment systems, and as people who live with the health effects of this pollution, bears the cost of what this industrial Green Revolution agriculture considers “externalities.”

Do we need an agriculture that pollutes in order to feed ourselves and supply our manufacturing goods? No.

Pollution reduction is attained by using crops and cropping systems that exist today which don’t need industrial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, that don’t need to be worked up every year, hold water and soil on the land, and still meet our food and manufacturing needs.

The much ballyhooed but useless “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy” is needed only if we assume we will continue with this corn – beans – confinement – feedlot model of agriculture. We have a choice; continue with this inherently polluting, soil losing, petro/chemical/industrial agriculture; or, switch to a non-polluting biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture.

The political process could help make that choice. Cities and counties can use their political capital to push for changes in the farm bill to promote sustainable cropping systems (re-perennialize agriculture) – rather than policies that encourage all-out commodity production and subsidize clearing of fragile lands.

What is new about our approach is that we are taking this directly to cities and counties whose people, through flooding and polluted rivers, are affected; and, who have political capital to spend on correcting that problem through changing the farm bill.

Listening to the public conversation, you would think non-point nutrient reduction is complicated. It is not. But, most of the conversations today are descriptions of the problems. Our conversation goes beyond describing and is a prescription for solving the problems.

Our request is that you work to change the farm bill. Most farmers have to farm the farm bill in order to make money. Change the farm bill and you will change agriculture. Change agriculture and you will change flooding and pollution.

We know that the two pollutants most responsible for our surface waters being classified impaired are phosphorus and nitrogen. And, we know that the majority of those pollutants come from agricultural practices.

The Great Lakes were becoming much cleaner 20 years ago in part because of the elimination of phosphorus from detergents. But, 10 years ago scientists noticed that the lakes were once again seeing new and expanding dead zones.

The only obvious difference in the watersheds was the introduction of no-till cropping. It turns out there is a form of phosphorus, dissolved reactive phosphorus, coming from no-till acres that washes off fields and into the lakes. Yet, no-till is considered a conservation measure.

It is known that nitrogen has always been in our rivers. Before World War II, most nitrogen in our waters was from animal and green manure, which had to break down before it could be used by plants. With the Green Revolution and industrial fertilizers, however, that nitrogen is in the form of nitrates, which are readily available to algae and other plants. This nitrate nitrogen, unlike organic nitrogen, leads directly to the algae blooms and other problems we see in our surface waters.

Research tells us that prior to sod-busting in the 1830’s, rain and snow stayed on the land where it fell because of the sponge-like landscape of prairies, savannahs, forests, and wetlands.

There was a spring melt consisting of 10% of the year’s total rain and snow amount. But that happened over days and/or weeks. The melt’s volume was 3 to 4 inches of the annual rainfall of approximately 36 inches, and instead of flooding, the spring melt gently raised river volumes for a short time.

This presentation is about adopting crops and cropping systems that exist today that will, to the extent possible, recreate that sponge landscape (re-perennialize) without sacrificing our ability to feed ourselves and provide for our manufacturing needs.

The pillars of our prescription are:

1. edible perennial prairie grains for humans and animals – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, no yearly tillage, builds soil, provides habitat, exists today – scaled up for sale to farmers by 2020;

2. strips of perennial native prairie in all annual fields – 10% in strips stops 95% of soil erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

3. prairie and grass based animal farming – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

4. industrial hemp – cover crop, no chemicals if used in crop rotations, used with strips, provides habitat, provides food and fiber, replaces many oil based manufactured products, revitalizes rural America with factories and processing plants, 350 year history as a crop in North America;

5. small grains, hays, fruits, and vegetables – used with strips, provides habitat, builds soil.

 

 

Iowa, Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Plans (10-1-13)

Minnesota now has its own version of Iowa’s much ballyhooed, but useless, “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.” (“Minnesota sets goals for fixing Gulf of Mexico dead zone,” Cedar Rapids Gazette 9-26-13)

These strategies are useless:

1. because there is no implementation instrument – making it a voluntary only program;

2. because of scale – millions of acres of corn and beans versus a few piddling conservation band-aid projects;

3. because there are practices included in these strategies that actually pollute;

4. because there are practices included that short circuit hydrology contributing to flooding and not recharging our groundwater and aquifers;

5. and, because there is nothing in them that we did not know or could not have implemented years ago.

These strategies are needed only if we assume we will continue with this corn – beans – confinement – feedlot model of agriculture.

We have a choice: continue with this inherently polluting, soil losing, petro/chemical/industrial agriculture, or switch to a non-polluting biologically benign and beneficial, soil building agriculture.

What this non-polluting agriculture might look like:

1. edible perennial prairie grains for humans and animals – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, no yearly tillage, builds soil, provides habitat, exists today – scaled up for sale to farmers by 2020;

2. strips of perennial native prairie in all annual fields – 10% in strips stops 95% of soil erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

3. prairie and grass based animal farming – no chemicals, no runoff, no erosion, builds soil, provides habitat;

4. industrial hemp – cover crop, no chemicals if used in crop rotations, used with strips, provides habitat, provides food and fiber, replaces many oil based manufactured products, revitalizes rural America with factories and processing plants, 350 year history as a crop in North America;

5. small grains, hays, fruits, and vegetables – used with strips, provides habitat, builds soil.

What is at stake here is our continued ability to feed ourselves. This current industrial model of agriculture is unsustainable and polluting. The biological organisms in our soil are being destroyed through years of chemical application. And through unsustainable erosion, even that polluted soil will someday be completely gone.

We still have a choice.

Bob Watson

2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
563-379-4147
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
www.civandinc.net

 

Conversation Reset (9-10-13)

There comes a time when we understand that an industry or a product has detrimental effects on either humans or the environment. This is one of those times.

We now understand the technology of confinements. We know the industrial poisons that are created by using this technology. And, we have medical and scientific studies which show harm to human health and the environment.

There is a history of industry fighting against change even when the dangers are known. Think of tobacco, DDT, PCB’s, lead in gasoline, etc. Industrial ag proponents are no different. “This is just agriculture” is the spin mantra coming from corporate ag apologists. But we now know why and how people and the environment are harmed by using this technology in agriculture. It is time to change.

 

Nitrogen in our Rivers(8-4-13)

It is known that nitrogen was in our rivers in the early 1900’s. However, because the Green Revolution uses industrial fertilizers (West, Texas explosion), today’s nitrogen is in the form of nitrate nitrogen rather than the historic organic nitrogen from animal and green manures.

Even though organic nitrogen was in the rivers, organic nitrogen needs to break down to be in a form that is available to plants. But the Green Revolution’s nitrate nitrogen is in a form that is readily available to algae and other biological organisms. This nitrate nitrogen, versus pre WWII organic nitrogen, leads directly to the algae blooms and other problems seen in our surface waters today.

The Great Lakes were becoming much cleaner 20 years ago in part because of the elimination of phosphorus from detergents. But, 10 years ago scientists noticed that the lakes were once again seeing new and expanding dead zones.

The only obvious difference in the watersheds was the introduction of no-till cropping. It turns out there is a form of phosphorus, dissolved reactive phosphorus, coming from no-till acres that washes off fields and into the lakes. Yet, no-till is considered a conservation measure.

Pam Johnson, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, testifying in front of Congress said that unless the Renewable Fuels Standard was reauthorized Iowa’s ag economy would crash. So much for the canard “we feed the world” as an excuse for putting up with pollution from industrial agriculture.

Because of petro/chemical/industrial ag’s pollution, nitrogen – phosphorus – toxic waste from confinements and feedlots, Iowa has become a toilet for rich people in the world. And you, as rate payers of water and wastewater treatment systems, bare the cost of what this Green Revolution agriculture considers externalities.

Do we need an agriculture that pollutes in order to feed ourselves and supply our manufacturing goods? No.

Pollution reduction is attained by using crops and cropping systems which don’t need industrial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, that don’t need to be worked up every year, hold water and soil on the land, and still meet our food and manufacturing needs.

We have a choice; continue with this inherently polluting, soil losing, petro/chemical/industrial agriculture; or, switch to a non-polluting biologically benign and beneficial soil building agriculture, which exists today. As a nation, we choose through the political process.

Cities and counties can use their political capital to push for changes in the farm bill which will put those crops and cropping systems in the farm bill. To see those crops and how to go about changing the farm bill, go to www.civandinc.net appendices D and G.

As people who put up with, and pay for, this industrial ag’s pollution and flooding, you do have a dog in this fight. Through your efforts, you can clean up Iowa.

Bob Watson Larry Stone

 

IAWEA Nutrient Pollution PowerPoint Presentation (6-5-13)

This is a combination of our two PowerPoint presentations into a hybrid which deals with two important agricultural issues – confinements and non-point ag pollution.

Through giving the “watershed” PowerPoint at my annual wastewater conference (IAWEA), I developed a very easily understandable model of what is happening (description) and what can happen (prescription) with these two issues.

This IAWEA presentation came about because the EPA, DNR, IDALS, USDA, ISU, etc., come to our conference each year and tell us we have to clean up Iowa’s water because it is too complicated and expensive for ag to clean up their 90% contribution. This presentation was my response to that notion and it gave our members language and context to discuss, or become involved in, these issues. We hope it will do the same for you.

In recent years at the Annual Wastewater Conference the EPA, DNR, IDALS, USDA, ISU and others have presented the notion that point source emitters (that would be you, the rate payers of water and wastewater fees) must bear the brunt of cleaning up our waters because fixing the pollution coming from non-point ag was too complicated and expensive to be undertaken. At this years conference Bob Watson presented a response to that notion. This presentation gives a language and context that our members can use when responding to that claim.

Bob Watson Presentation IAWEA Annual Conference June 5, 2013

Presentation title: Alternate Cropping Systems to Reduce Non-point Pollution

Original title: Conservation Band-Aids or Real Watershed Changes

For cities and counties this presentation is about reducing flooding. For you, and for our purposes today, this is about agricultural non-point pollution reduction.

Pollution reduction is attained by using crops and cropping systems which don’t need industrial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, that don’t need to be worked up every year, hold water and soil on the land, and still meet our food and manufacturing needs.

The “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy” is needed only if we assume we will continue with this corn – beans – confinement – feedlot model of agriculture. We have a choice; continue with this inherently polluting, soil losing, petro/chemical/industrial agriculture; or, switch to a non-polluting biologically benign and beneficial soil building agriculture. As a nation, we choose through the political process.

What is new about this approach is that we are taking this directly to cities whose people, through flooding and polluted rivers, are affected and who have political capital to spend on correcting that problem through changing the farm bill.

Listening to the public conversation, you would think non-point nutrient reduction is complicated. It is not. But, most of the conversation today is a description of the problem. Our presentation will provide you with a prescription for solving the problem. We will give you a language and contextual story about agricultural based non-point nutrient reduction that you can use when discussing, or becoming involved, in this issue.

We know that the two pollutants most responsible for our surface waters being classified impaired are phosphorus and nitrogen. And, we know that the majority of those pollutants come from agricultural practices.

The Great Lakes were becoming much cleaner 20 years ago in part because of the elimination of phosphorus from detergents. But, 10 years ago scientists noticed that the lakes were once again seeing new and expanding dead zones.

The only obvious difference in the watersheds was the introduction of no-till cropping. It turns out there is a form of phosphorus, dissolved reactive phosphorus, coming from no-till acres that washes off fields and into the lakes. Yet, no-till is considered a conservation measure.

It is known that nitrogen was in our rivers in the early 1900’s. Because the Green Revolution uses industrial fertilizers, today’s nitrogen is in the form of nitrate nitrogen rather than the historic organic nitrogen from animal and green manures. Even though organic nitrogen was in the rivers, organic nitrogen needs to break down to be in a form that is available to plants. But nitrate nitrogen is in a form that is readily available to algae and other biological organisms. This nitrate nitrogen, versus pre WWII organic nitrogen, leads directly to the algae blooms and other problems seen in our surface waters today.

This presentation serves two functions; it informs and it requests.

Research tells us that prior to sod-busting in the 1830’s, rain and snow stayed on the land where it fell because of the sponge-like landscape of prairies, savannahs, forests, and wetlands.

There was a spring melt consisting of 10% of the year’s total rain and snow amount. But that happened over days and/or weeks. The melt’s volume was 3 to 4 inches of the annual rainfall of approximately 36 inches, and instead of flooding, the spring melt gently raised river volumes for a short time.

This presentation is about adopting crops and cropping systems that exist today that will, to the extent possible, recreate that sponge landscape without sacrificing our ability to feed ourselves.

We originally prepared this presentation with the floods of 2008 in mind. But, because of the crops and cropping systems we discuss, it’s become obvious that these ideas inform us about and speak to several other agricultural issues besides flooding. We hope you’ll see the implications relating to the drought, pollution and the “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” the link between food and fracking, and the revitalization of rural America.

The request is that you work to change the farm bill. Most farmers have to farm the farm bill in order to make money. Change the farm bill and you will change agriculture. Change agriculture and you will change flooding and pollution.

To see the original presentation and the accompanying documents, go to www.civandinc.net appendix D. This presentation is appendix G. The original confinement presentation is appendix E.

Bio:

Bob Watson is an environmental activist who makes his living in the wastewater industry. Bob has been presenting on the unintended consequences of the adoption of industrial agricultural models for 20 years. His work is the basis of the recently filed lawsuit asking the EPA to regulate the poison sewer gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia in agriculture the same as they regulate them in other sectors of the US.

To see a related presentation on the unintended consequences of CAFO agriculture, see www.civandinc.net appendix E. This work is the basis of our recent lawsuit trying to get the EPA to regulate poison sewer gasses coming from confinements the same as they regulate those gasses in other sectors of the US.

Bob Watson
2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
563-379-4147
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
www.civandinc.net

 

 

Iowa and the Gulf’s Dead Zone (12-2-12)

In the Des Moines Register’s series on the dead zone in the Gulf, corporate agriculture apologists repeated their excuses for not addressing agriculture’s major role in the pollution causing that dead zone. According to apologists, most erosion and pollution from Iowa may not really be from the 30 million acres of farmland in Iowa. That pollution might be from a few hundred golf courses, some urban lawns, and regulated wastewater treatment plants. We also heard that regulations don’t work in agriculture, and that farmers should be allowed to pollute because they ‘feed the world’. Further, we were told farmers are conservationists who already work to limit runoff, erosion, and pollution.

Pollution from wastewater plants (point source pollution) has actually declined due to ever more stringent regulations. Meanwhile the waters of Iowa and the Gulf continue to become more polluted with each passing year due to non-point source pollution from agriculture. Understanding this phenomenon, the EPA directed states to come up with strategies to reduce that pollution.

After some years of study, Iowa’s strategy is contained in the IDALS “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy” document. The extent to which corporations have taken over our government, as shown by this document, should give us pause. Technically, many of the promoted practices have little real ability to deal with runoff, erosion, and pollution on the scale that is seen. And, this strategy ends up being just another “we wish the farmers would do” list because the document contains no “implementation instrument” to ensure adoption.

The question whether any strategy can fix this recently adopted petro/chemical/industrial model of agriculture is not even asked. This recent model is extraction based, petroleum based, and inherently polluting (because of how it works, it has to pollute). Research presented at this year’s US and Canadian Great Lakes Conference suggests no-till may be causing new dead zones in the Great Lakes. If so, this would be a major blow to this model’s no-till being promoted as a conservation method.

An “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy” is necessary only if we assume we will keep using this inherently polluting petro/chemical/industrial model of agriculture. We don’t need to. There are models of agriculture which exist today (edible perennial prairie, forage crops, prairie buffer strips, etc), that can clean up our water, reduce erosion, runoff, and pollution, and that are biologically benign and clean. Go to www.civandinc.net and click on appendix D to see models that exist today, that can be adopted wholesale today, and that will return agriculture to a non-polluting, non-flooding, soil building system adaptable to both a future of intense rain events and major droughts.

Bob Watson
2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
bobandlinda@civandinc.net

Dear Editor, (8-4-12)

I agree with Tim Dugger and the North Winneshiek School Board. They have had nothing to do with the EPA lawsuit.

That suit has been filed and funded by mothers, teachers, former students, parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, and community members.

177 medical and scientific studies (one of which was actually done on North Winn) were filed along with the lawsuit as evidence corroborating the lawsuit’s position that children’s health is being harmed by poison sewer gasses coming from confinements and feedlots. See www.civandinc.net , appendix E, # 2 “CAFO Research Studies and Articles”.

There was a time when country kids were healthier than city kids; it was known as the “Hygiene Hypotheses”. Now, under the current industrial model, country kids, because of confinements and feedlots, are less healthy than city kids (see appendix E, #3 “Traditional vs. Industrial Farm Children’s Health Studies”).

Why these gasses are being produced, and why children’s health is being harmed as a result, is made clear from the discussion of what CAFO technology is (see appendix E, #1 “Unintended Consequences of CAFOs” ), and what happens when you use that technology in agriculture.

We’ve explored many avenues in trying to resolve these North Winn air quality issues including the current EPA lawsuit and my candidacy for county supervisor. The air quality issue is not one that North Winn has had any control over. A new county funded HVAC system for North Winn, with the correct filters, would allow the kids to have clean and safe air to breathe at least while they are inside the building. That doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Bob Watson

Rural Decorah

Agri News Op-ed
Re the Jan 26 article on foaming (3-1
2)

With all the discussion and puzzlement over foam and flash fires in CAFO manure pits, researchers and CAFO operators may be overlooking the obvious. A CAFO manure pit is a de-facto anaerobic digester that produces methane, hydrogen-sulfide, phosphine, ammonia, and other toxic and poison gasses and compounds. There is no way around that situation when manure decomposes in a pit for months at a time.

Many variables could affect why foam forms on top of the waste in the pit, however: the animals’ diet; the proportional increase in the amount of manure being deposited in relation to the total volume of the pit as the pigs get bigger; the age of the waste; the water-manure ratio; the amount and kind of ventilation; barn cleaning chemicals; and other factors. But, the explosive methane and other gasses are created and present, whether they are in the waste, entrapped by foam, in the air of the building, or vented out into the surrounding neighborhood.

These facts were made clear in a 2009 study prepared for the National Pork Board by the Iowa State University Dept. of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. The report reviewed literature that cited CAFO fires from as long ago as 1969. Thus, it’s disturbing that no research has questioned the confinement technology that may lead to these explosions.

That 2009 study also noted a correlation between the feeding of DDGs and the apparent increase in foaming. Some studies show a higher manure output from animals fed DDGs, which have fewer available nutrients for the pigs to digest than unprocessed grain. This results in more waste being deposited in the pit over time (the proportional problem), and that waste will have a higher organic loading. Both issues can lead to foaming, and both are realities that wastewater industry operators have dealt with for years.

There may be no easy answer to the inherent CAFO problems of toxic emissions, fires, and foaming until we acknowledge that the technology being used is inappropriate. CAFOs mimic municipal/industrial wastewater facilities by collecting waste. But CAFOs, which are virtually exempt from regulations governing this fecal waste technology, do not treat the waste or contain the resulting gasses and pollutants. And, unlike the wastewater industry, CAFOs routinely place workers and animals in proximity to the hazards of anaerobic digestion.

Methane can cause fires. Methane and other toxins are vented into the surrounding neighborhood. Untreated sewage is spread on the land. An attempt to suppress foaming does not address the issue that confinements are anaerobic digesters. Decomposing fecal waste in a closed space always creates these poison and explosive gasses. If you use this technology, you will get these problems. You simply can’t get around that fact.

Bob Watsonoooooooooooo Larry Stone
Decorah, IA ooooooooooooElkader, IA
bobandlinda@civandinc.net olstone@alpinecom.net

A Watershed Approach to Reducing Floods

Following the 2008 floods, the original Army Corps of Engineers estimate of levee and pumping structures to “protect” Cedar Rapids from future flood damage was $1 billion dollars. Subsequently, this was judged too much money to spend on protecting Cedar Rapids. More recent estimates for smaller systems have been substantially less, but still in the hundreds of millions of dollars. These efforts would protect only parts of Cedar Rapids, meanwhile creating worse conditions for both upstream and downstream residents of the watershed. Also, these so-called “protective” systems would do nothing to alleviate or mitigate the causes leading to future flood events.

A much better solution would be for the people of Cedar Rapids, and other flood prone cities, to focus on changes in watershed practices to reduce future flooding. And this can be accomplished through the spending of political capital on a new farm bill, rather than wasting monetary capital.

In the historic past, Iowa soil was covered by deep-rooted forests, prairies, savannahs, and wetlands. Along with streams, rivers and lakes, this flora/hydrological system created a vast sponge ranging some 15 to 30 feet in depth both below and above the surface. This sponge allowed rainwater infiltration rates of between 7 to 14 inches per hour while purifying and slowly releasing the stored water for plant uptake and recharging our groundwater and aquifers.

Today’s intensive, row-crop agriculture has virtually destroyed that sponge, however. Modern floods, although made worse through climate change’s more extreme rain events, are mostly caused because industrial agriculture has turned the historic landscape on its head and put bare soil at the surface. With this unprotected soil reaching saturation after as little as one inch of rainfall, rainwater simply sluices soil off the surface on its way into our streams, rivers and lakes. With the more common intense rain events of today, we see the historic flooding of recent years.

But other innovative, alternative agricultural systems – which are available now – would allow us to re-perennialize most of agriculture and rebuild the topsoil “sponge” with its flood mitigating capabilities. An Iowa State University study has shown that simply interspersing annual crop fields with strips of native prairie, which can soak up 7 to 13 inches of rain per hour, can eliminate up to 95% of erosion.

By 2020, “The Land Institute’s” first of four native prairie plant species bred to have large seed heads for human and animal consumption should be scaled up and ready for sale to farmers. We will be able to eat the prairie, and these crops would help rebuild Iowa’s historic sponge.

We also should take livestock out of confinement buildings, which are really dangerous sewage collection facilities. Confinements create untreated sewage, hydrogen-sulfide, ammonia, methane and particulates that cause human health problems and environmental pollution. And we should remove livestock from feedlots, which often are little more than open sewers. If we put these animals on the land, much land now used for row crops could be converted to pasture. Utilizing intensive rotational grazing, that pasture land would be capable of storing up to 7 inches of rain per hour.

An important part of a rotational cropping system could be industrial hemp, a cover crop needing little or no fertilizer, herbicides or pesticides, and so important for food and fiber in early America. The prohibition surrounding hemp cultivation has been lifted in all developed countries except the US. Yet hemp ranks second only to soybeans in its percentage content of protein, and it can be used to produce food, fiber, textiles, paper, essential oils and lubricants along with many other important products. Other crops which would feed people and animals could include small grains, hays, vegetables and fruits.

The declining supply of petroleum eventually will require a move away from our current petro/chemical-dependent industrial/row crop agriculture to more sustainable crop rotations. By some estimates, that could mean the need for 40 to 60 million smaller, sustainable farmers by the end of this century. And that could revitalize our rural communities.

A more diverse, sustainable sponge agriculture would go a long way toward a flood-mitigated future for the people of Cedar Rapids and the Cedar River watershed.

A farm bill that spends political capital to promote watershed changes to reduce flooding in the future; or, if we do nothing to change agriculture, a levee and pump system costing $1 billion dollars trying to stave off the damage from the inevitable next “500 year” flood. What future would you rather have?

Bob Watson …..Larry Stone
Decorah, IA….. Elkader, IA

bobandlinda@civandinc.net
lstone@alpinecom.net

Rural school kids are being poisoned – and the bureaucrats refuse to do anything.

With most of Iowa’s livestock now being raised in factory-like, industrial settings, rural residents and rural schools are being subjected to the poison sewer gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, to the explosive and greenhouse gas methane, and to particulates.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which include both confinements and open feedlots, act like sewers and poorly operating wastewater digesters. They create sewer environments. But unlike carefully monitored industrial or municipal sewers, CAFOs are unregulated. They can and do constantly produce poison gasses, which are blown into the rural neighborhoods 24/7, 365 days a year. This is legal because the state and federal governments have exempted confinements and feedlots from all regulation concerning these poisons and particulates. Rules that normally would protect the public from the harmful health effects of these industrial technologies do not apply to agriculture. Rural schools – and school children – receive no protection from industrial poisons produced by agriculture.

The essential question we are asking is: “Who is responsible for school children’s health when they are required by law to be on school property?”

In our effort to find a solution to this problem in our county, we have gone to the Iowa DNR, our local County Board of Health, and the Iowa Department of Public Health – which checked twice with the Attorney General’s office. In each instance, when we asked who might be responsible for these children’s health, we have been told essentially that no one is. Apparently these poisons are not considered poisons when they are coming from industrial agriculture.

Studies have shown that negative health effects normally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide, ammonia, and particulates are higher in rural Iowa than most anywhere else in the US, as a percentage of population. We used to raise most animals outside on pasture. Up until a few years ago in Iowa, we raised more animals per year outside versus what we raise now in confinements and feedlots. We didn’t have these health problems in rural areas until we started using CAFOs – confinements and feedlots – with their inherent poisons and particulates.

So, who is responsible for children’s health when their playgrounds and classrooms are inundated with poison sewer gasses and particulates? Do we accept the Orwellian decree from the State that these really aren’t poisons when they come from industrial agriculture, and those children’s health problems don’t really exist?

We have been amazed and disappointed at this response – or really the non-response – from government officials to our inquiry. The harmful effects to human health and the environment from this modern petro-chemical industrial model of agriculture is probably Iowa’s most urgent peace and justice issue. It is despicable that children can be sacrificed for a model of agriculture that enriches a few corporations and leaves the rest of us living with the shattered remains of a once vibrant farming culture.
Bob Watson

2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA
bobandlinda@civandinc.net

Fundamental Problems (Sept 2010)

It’s not just one bad egg. There are fundamental problems across industrial confinement agriculture. In the last year, both Iowa and Minnesota have seen an ominous increase in foaming in pits beneath hog confinements – like a potentially toxic bubble bath, it rises right through floor slats – exacerbating the already serious problem of dead pigs and flash fires caused by hydrogen-sulfide and methane.

“I wish we had the answer,” said Angela Rieck-Hinz of ISU, writing in August on the Iowa Manure Management Action Group website, “but at this point in time we still have no answers as to what is causing the foaming or how best to control or manage the foam. If you have information regarding foaming pits you would like to share please contact me. In the meantime, I urge caution when pumping from manure pits. Be aware of safety concerns regarding manure gases, pit fires and explosions. Not all pit fires and explosions have happened in barns with foaming pits.”

The crux of the problem is that confinement advocates have inappropriately transferred wastewater technology from the highly regulated sector of municipal and industrial wastewater to the unregulated – in terms of wastewater – sector of industrial agriculture. The concern about poison and explosive gasses is not new, and not only in those confinements with the foaming problem. It is simply a consequence of using wastewater technology to raise animals.

In the wastewater industry, we learned long ago – after workers became ill or died – that we could not put normal workspaces in proximity to areas where fecal waste is decomposing. The constant production of the poison and explosive gasses – hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane – was finally taken into account in designing wastewater facilities and technology that would protect both the workers and the surrounding public. Those protections have been codified in the regulations that control municipal/industrial wastewater technology and design. But industrial agriculture remains exempt.

There may be many causes for the upswing in foaming problems in confinements. Some potential causes might include: damage to buildings and equipment through the corrosive nature of hydrogen-sulfide, genetically modified crops being fed to animals, different insecticides and herbicides applied to fields as pests and weeds become resistant to chemicals used in the past. Perhaps we will find solutions to somewhat mitigate this new foaming problem. But the bottom line is that as long as you use wastewater technology to store waste in pits below where animals are being raised, you will always have disease and death affecting both people and animals caused by these poisonous and explosive gasses.

The state Legislature, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and corporate industrial agricultural officials steadfastly deny that confinements are a form of wastewater technology. Although seeming illogical, in fact a DNR construction permit requires this type of building, resulting in these problems.

As a society, we should question what this industrial model of agriculture is doing to us, the animals, and the environment. We have turned most of our hog producers into virtual serfs, with corporations financing and owning the buildings, the pigs, and the feed, and even controlling when the producers market the pigs. Corporations externalize their environmental costs onto the producers and the public by having the producers own the polluting waste and the dead animals. We also expect producers to deal with the unsolvable problems confinement buildings create.

Confinement technology used to raise animals is a failed model on many levels. It is time to put animals back on the land.

Bob Watson
2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
bobandlinda@civandinc.net

(phone for editor’s use only 563-379-4147)

Tile Line/Constructed Wetlands Op-Ed (1-10)

In the recent historical past, Iowa was covered with forests, prairies, wetlands, thick sod, streams and rivers. Rain that fell to the earth was retained, cleansed, used and slowly passed through the state. That changed with the coming of settlers who broke the sod of the prairies for cultivation agriculture. The historic hydrology of the state was altered with the need to drain fields. To accomplish that draining, we now have some 880,000 miles of field tile in Iowa. Records show a doubling and even tripling of the flow of some rivers over the last 100 years. Also, because tile lines provide a direct conduit to surface and ground waters, we have lost the water’s contact with the cleansing soil and surface flora resulting in streams and rivers that are, in many cases, little more than silt, fecal and chemical filled canals.

Last November, the Water Resources Coordinating Council (WRCC) submitted flood plain management policy recommendations and funding options to Governor Culver and state legislators. The recommendations are intended to help the state rebuild safer, stronger and smarter in the wake of the historic 2008 floods.

House File 756, passed by the legislature in 2009, required the WRCC to submit policy and funding recommendations that promote “a watershed management approach to reduce the adverse impact of future flooding on this state’s residents, businesses, communities, and soil and water quality.”

One proposal from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) is counter intuitive and scientifically questionable. IDALS proposes to further enhance artificial drainage of Iowa farmland. The proposal has morphed between an implementation plan and a feasibility study. The plan appears to be moving rapidly from concept to expensive experiment, in spite of serious questions raised by scientists and knowledgeable water resource professionals. What has been called the “Iowa Plan” redesigns and enlarges existing drainage systems and directs water flow to constructed wetlands. These wetlands may reduce nutrient loads delivered to Iowa lakes and streams. Restoring Iowa’s wetlands sounds appealing because this could benefit the hydrology and water quality that has been disturbed by – ironically – artificial drainage. The arguments supporting accelerated drainage are the same that resulted in the elimination of Iowa’s wetland ecosystem in the first place – increased agricultural production. Producers and commodity consumers tout the benefits of expanded production efficiency, but what about those of us who want to use the streams and lakes destined to receive more water, nutrients and pollution from accelerated drainage? If increased production efficiency resulted in the cultivation of less land, then this is a noble objective. History shows, however, that this has not been the case in Iowa.

The downstream consequences of accelerated drainage need to be carefully examined beyond the proposed token wetland band-aid. There are several things we know for certain: “improved” artificial drainage in Iowa has increased stream flow in quantity and duration over the last 100+ years; artificial drainage flushes nitrogen and phosphorus from soil into lakes and streams, impairing those waters for drinking, recreation, and aquatic life; wetlands have the potential to reduce stream flow and nutrient loads. What we don’t know: how much will stream flow and nutrient levels increase if drainage is further enhanced? What will be the effect of constructed wetlands on downstream flows and nutrient loads? And, are producers willing to designate enough acreage to a constructed wetland such that it can function effectively? Furthermore, there is the risk that these constructed wetlands, which will be receiving enormous nutrient loads, will have deleterious effects on downstream water quality.

Under current Iowa law, producers can construct drainage systems for their land using their own funds. If the negative environmental effects of accelerated drainage are only balanced out by a wetland system, how will the taxpayers of Iowa and the U.S. benefit by subsidizing this activity? Will the water leaving these drainage systems be required to meet some quality and quantity objectives? Discussion of these questions and a discussion of further modifying Iowa’s hydrology at taxpayer expense need to be addressed. A specific, scientifically sound project plan needs to be developed and reviewed. This will best be accomplished by assembling some of the best Iowa scientists familiar with the issues. A transparent planning and funding process should lead to evaluating competitive ideas rather than the process of directing taxpayer funds to a limited number IDALS’ friends. Such a review is generally required for competitive research funding and Iowa should expect no less before embarking on a potentially expensive adventure in further (mis)managing its water resources.

If we learned nothing more from the Floods of ’08, let’s remember that accelerated drainage creates significant risks for downstream property owners and communities. We hope IDALS will propose changes in land practices that result in less flow and less nutrient pollution to the waters of the state of Iowa, rather than more.

Bob Watson
Bill Stowe
Mike Burkart

Anti-degradation Regulations (1-10 Register Op-Ed)

Iowa has a double standard about sewage.

The state’s inconsistent rules for waste from cities and industries, compared with the regulations that apply to industrial agriculture, are jeopardizing our water quality and punishing the citizens of our communities.

State laws and agency regulations require municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants to collect and treat their sewage, and to obtain permits to discharge effluent from their treatment facilities. We know who these “point source” polluters are, and we strive to keep them in check.

Industrial livestock confinements also produce sewage, but these operations have escaped the point source restrictions because they have been defined as “agriculture.” With today’s industrial scale, however, these confinements are no different than cities or industries in terms of the amount and kind of waste produced. Although confinement waste is produced by agricultural animals, it is not what most people would describe as “manure.” Confinement animal waste sits in a pit, tank or lagoon and “cooks” for several months, turning into a toxic sewage. That confinement waste generates hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia – poison sewer gasses that are constantly vented into the air that neighbors must breathe. Confinements also produce and discharge methane, which is a toxic greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Cities and industries must collect and treat their waste before discharging it. In contrast, industrial confinements only collect and store their waste, but then are allowed to dispose of it on farm fields without treating it. That untreated sewage often enters our rivers, streams, tile lines and groundwater.

In recent years Iowa has adopted stricter discharge permits for point source municipal/industrial wastewater facilities. The DNR is now considering further restrictions on point source dischargers: so-called anti-degradation regulations. With the adoption of anti-degradation rules, today’s permits would be a baseline and no increase in discharge limits would be allowed in the future. It is an attempt to keep the waters of the state from degrading any further due to increased pollution from dischargers. Yet the State has no documentation to show there would be a significant decrease in the ongoing degradation of Iowa waters if anti-degradation rules are adopted for point source dischargers.

To meet this new municipal/industrial anti-degradation regulation, the DNR is suggesting alternatives to discharging treated liquid effluent to a stream or river. One alternative would be applying the treated liquid effluent onto the land. The DNR has strict rules for land applying treated effluent from municipal and industrial systems, which makes land application more expensive than discharging their treated effluent into a stream. Small communities, with a high proportion of senior citizens and young people, would especially feel the financial pinch.

Contrast this proposed extra regulation and more expense for municipal/industrial waste with what happens to the completely untreated waste from an industrial livestock confinement. The pig to people equivalent amount of waste from confined pigs in this state would be like having 30 million Iowans spreading their “untreated” waste directly on Iowa’s farmland. Remember, the manure from a confinement sits for months in a pit, tank or lagoon, where it becomes a toxic brew that spews poisons into the air. Eventually, both the liquids and solids from the untreated confinement waste – which is more polluting than raw human sewage – are simply spread on cropland. The waste can seep into the state’s 880,000 miles of field tiles or run into adjacent streams, then quickly enter our rivers. Worse yet, it can enter groundwater through sinkholes or losing streams. Because many of the microorganisms in the soil have been lost to erosion and heavy application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, there is only minimal biological breakdown of the waste. Likewise, the antibiotics and hormones commonly used by industrial livestock producers can enter our water without treatment.

If state officials hope to stop the degradation of Iowa’s waters, it does not make sense to ignore the agricultural component, which accounts for at least 90% of our water pollution. To be sure, it’s hard to argue against cleaner water. But is it fair to impose a new regulatory and financial burden on cities and urban industries, while continuing to allow industrial agriculture to spread untreated sewage onto the land?

It’s time to require the agricultural community to pay its share of the clean-up. If livestock producers wish to use industrial confinements, which produce sewage instead of manure, we should apply the same standards to the wastewater from those confinement operations as we do to municipal/industrial wastewater treatment facilities. We should require them to build a treatment facility, just as we impose that requirement on Iowa communities. If producers of livestock “sewage” don’t want this regulation, they should adopt sustainable models of agriculture that return manure to the land as fertilizer, rather than convert it to a toxic waste.

Whatever the source, untreated “sewage” pollutes our waters, kills aquatic organisms, affects the health of our citizens, and impacts the quality of life. Those who produce sewage – whether cities, or industries, or industrial confinements – should follow the same strict environmental rules. Until this happens, it is pointless to impose any further regulations – including these anti-degradation regulations – on point source dischargers.

Bob Watson
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
Larry Stone
lstone@alpinecom.net

“And kind argument deconstruction” (1-10)

This will talk about what happened to our anti-degradation op-ed when one of two parallel arguments, our “and kind” argument, is left out. And, what happens further when those sentences which are a part of the “and kind” argument are left out.

The anti-degradation op-ed that we submitted to the Register for publication contained not one, but two parallel arguments. One was about the “amount” of sewage, our quantity argument, which was left in. The other was about the “kinds” of sewage, our quality argument, which was left out. Right at the outset then, the Register narrowed the scope of our argument by taking out the “kind” argument by leaving out the words, “and kind.” We are left making the much narrower argument about quantity, and having a less complex discussion by not addressing the quality argument (what is this stuff?). The Register version becomes a one dimensional beginner’s version of what we are actually talking about. And, still allows the argument that “this is just manure” to be made by industrial ag apologists.

The set of “and kind” sentences left out contain explanatory factual statements that add depth and clarity to the understanding of the technology and the waste, talk about the connections to multiple levels, connect the different parts of our conversation, inserts this issue into the larger issue of the petro-chemical/industrial row crop model of agriculture, explains why and how this waste (through its intersection with the row crop model soils) affects the larger environment, talk about why soils can’t treat this waste and why soils can’t treat some waste no matter what, and contains language which tells you why you should care about this issue.

The “and kind” argument and sentences are our “justification arguments”. They provide the information which allows us to make the assertions that we make. These details also connect our conversation’s logical progression. They justify what we have said and then allow us to make new arguments based on those truths. The op-ed is laid out in an “if then, therefore” form of argument. The “and kind” argument and sentences are the “if then” portion of that form. That form of argument gives a firm basis for believing the assertions that we make. With the Register version, we seem to be making assertions which you have no basis for believing except that we told you to.

Our originally submitted argument has more depth, is more complex, is a larger multi-level conversation about how this issue fits in to the current petro-chemical/industrial ag model; and, how this waste affects, through the current ag model, the larger environment. If the “and kind” quality argument is left in our op-ed, instead of the Register’s one dimensional discussion, we have a conversation on multiple levels talking about a whole host of issues; which is what we intended and what our original op-ed did.

Bob Watson
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
Larry Stone
lstone@alpinecom.net

The Dark Side of the Green Revolution (10-09 Register)

There is a sense in which Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution can be viewed as one of the most serious and sustained human-caused pollution events in history.

Similar to US, Midwest, and Iowa farmers, other countries farmers’ use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides as part of the Green Revolution has resulted in dead zones, algae blooms and polluted surface and ground waters. Locally, Iowa’s impaired surface waters list alone is now well over 400. We find agricultural chemicals in the majority of our private wells. And, we have seen recent stories about poison algae blooms and Iowa’s contribution to the continuing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Again, like many agricultural areas in the US and around the world, because of drenching soils with chemicals for 50 plus years, the soils in some areas of the Punjab, India’s breadbasket, are now so polluted and bereft of beneficial biological organisms that crops can no longer be grown without the use of chemicals. And similar to what has happened to the Ogallala Aquifer, because of the Green Revolutions’ need for water, the Punjab’s and other water tables have been significantly lowered.

Although it has been claimed that the Green Revolution has saved millions from starvation, we know that millions of subsistence farmers have been put off the land through not having the capital resources for the machinery, chemicals and hybrid seeds required by the Green Revolution. Millions of people have moved into urban areas contributing to urban problems that come with over-population. Similar to the US’s illegal immigration problem, millions have been forced to migrate to other countries looking for work.

We have a tendency to pat each other on the back and give each other awards and accolades. Meanwhile, unintended, but very real, consequences are conveniently brushed aside and ignored.

Borlaug’s admonition that no food revolution will help unless we deal with the problem of over-population is seldom remarked upon. It should be. But, his Green Revolution is not the right agricultural model for the earth or for its people.

Jingoism in Agriculture (12-08)

Unless you confine your information to what the Farm Bureau or other “corporate agriculture apologists” have to say, anyone who pays attention to what subsidized American agriculture has done to indigenous farmers around the world certainly knows Steve Jacobson knew what he was talking about. Guatemala’s historical problems with the US go much further than farmers losing their farms because of the US exporting subsidized corn to their country. It started when the US, through the CIA, overthrew a democratically elected government there in 1954 and hasn’t stopped since.

Paul Hunter should get a clue from the recent elections. Mouthing talking points will no longer work when discussing our country’s unfortunate effects on other countries in the world. Petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, as a model of agriculture, is not only bad for others around the world but it is also slowly killing our environment and ourselves.

Some weeks ago I gave information to the County Health Board which talked about a U of Iowa study showing MRSA being found in 70% of confinement pigs and 45% of the workers in those confinements. Whether it was a case of ignorance or confusion, no one at that meeting seems to have thought this might be something to worry about. In 2005 alone MRSA caused nearly 19,000 deaths in the US and more than 94,000 life threatening infections.

Another recent study done out of Johns Hopkins showed just driving down a highway behind a truck full of confinement chickens being taken to a processing plant resulted in high levels of bacteria, some of which were resistant to antibiotics like MRSA, in the car, in the car’s air, and on items in the car. The U of Iowa MRSA pig study was recently expanded to non-confinement pastured-raised pigs and no MRSA was found in pigs or people on those farms.

Because of subsidized American grain being dumped in Guatemala, many farmers and farm workers lost their livelihoods and some ended up working at Agri in Postville. It is a good thing for our local environment and our local social service providers that Agri has finally gone under; for good, I hope. Kosher meat industry prices were kept unduly low because Agri scrimped on environmental costs of raising and butchering meat animals, and by hiring illegal immigrants and paying them wages far below what most people could live on. We and our neighborhoods paid a high price for Agri’s low priced meat.

We continue to pay a high price for using this inherently poisonous petro-chemical/industrial model of agriculture. With the recent rejection of right wing jingoism, there may be a chance of having a conversation filled with good science, fairness and justice, resulting in a cleaner form of agriculture, and a clearer conscience when it comes to dealing with our international neighbors.

 


DNR Anti-Degradation Comments

The state’s inconsistent rules for waste from cities and industries, compared with the regulations that apply to industrial agriculture, are jeopardizing our water quality and punishing the citizens of our communities.

State laws and agency regulations require municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants to collect and treat their sewage, and to obtain permits to discharge effluent from their treatment facilities. We know who these “point source” polluters are, and we strive to keep them in check.

We also know that municipal/industrial wastewater technology and industrial agricultural confinement technology are the same technologies with the same potential pollution problems. We know these technologies are the same by description, by their inherent poison byproducts, and by Iowa Code. Unfortunately, when this technology is used by industrial agriculture, we turn what would have been biologically benign beneficial manure, broken down by soil, sun and microorganisms, into a toxic sewage. To compound the problem, industrial agriculture adopted only the first half of wastewater technology – collection and storage – without adopting the second half – treatment, regulation, protection, and education. Thus, agricultural waste is collected and stored for months without treatment, meanwhile “cooking” and turning into a toxic soup, which constantly generates the poison sewer gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia.

But, as it stands today, if several hundred/thousand hogs, cattle, chickens, or turkeys are confined in a building, their excrement, amounting to the waste from a small city, is considered to be agricultural and therefore exempt from most regulation. It’s legal to allow that “agricultural” sewage to ferment for months, all the while venting the resulting toxic gases into the atmosphere. Neighbors breathe those emissions, and scientific studies show that their health often suffers. Eventually, the untreated sewage is spread on the land, where it becomes “non-point pollution” that often enters our rivers, streams, tile lines, and groundwater.

In recent years Iowa has adopted stricter discharge permits for point source municipal/industrial wastewater facilities. The DNR is now considering further restrictions on point source dischargers: so-called anti-degradation regulations. With the adoption of anti-degradation rules, today’s permits would be a baseline and no increase in discharge limits would be allowed in the future. It is an attempt to keep the waters of the state from degrading any further due to increased pollution from dischargers. Yet the State has no documentation to show there would be a significant decrease in the ongoing degradation of Iowa waters if anti-degradation rules are adopted for point source dischargers.

To meet this new municipal/industrial anti-degradation regulation, the DNR is suggesting alternatives to discharging liquid effluent to a stream or river. One alternative would be applying the treated liquid effluent onto the land. The DNR has strict rules for land applying effluent from municipal and industrial systems, which makes land application more expensive than discharging their effluent into a stream. Small communities, with a high proportion of senior citizens and young people, would especially feel the financial pinch.

Contrast this proposed extra regulation and more expense for municipal/industrial waste with what happens to the completely untreated waste from an industrial livestock confinement. Remember, the manure from a confinement sits for months in a pit, tank or lagoon, where it becomes a toxic brew that spews poisons into the air. Eventually, both the liquids and solids from the untreated confinement waste – which is more polluting than raw human sewage – is simply spread on cropland. The waste can seep into the state’s 880,000 miles of field tiles or run into adjacent streams, then quickly enter our rivers. Worse yet, it can enter groundwater through sinkholes or losing streams. Because many of the microorganisms in the soil have been lost to erosion and heavy application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, there is only minimal biological breakdown of the waste. Likewise, the antibiotics and hormones commonly used by industrial livestock producers can enter our water without treatment.

If state officials hope to stop the degradation of Iowa’s waters, it does not make sense to ignore the component of agriculture, which accounts for perhaps 90% of our water pollution. To be sure, it’s hard to argue against cleaner water. But is it fair to impose a new regulatory and financial burden on cities and urban industries, while continuing to allow industrial agriculture to spread untreated sewage onto the land?

It’s time to require the agricultural community to pay its share of the clean-up. If livestock producers wish to use industrial confinements, which produce sewage instead of manure, we should apply the same standards to the wastewater from those confinement operations as we do to municipal/industrial wastewater treatment facilities. We should require them to build a treatment facility, just as we impose that requirement on Iowa communities. If producers of livestock “sewage” don’t want this regulation, they should adopt sustainable models of agriculture that return manure to the land as fertilizer, rather than convert it to a toxic waste.

Whatever the source, “sewage” pollutes our waters, kills aquatic organisms, affects the health of our citizens, and impacts the quality of life. Those who produce sewage – whether cities, or industries, or industrial confinements – should follow the same environmental rules. Until this happens, it is our position to resist any further regulations being put on point source dischargers; including these anti-degradation regulations.

Bob Watson
bobandlinda@civandinc.net
Larry Stone
lstone@alpinecom.net

For more information regarding industrial confinements as wastewater technology, please go to http://civandinc.com/Stone-Watson%20CAFO%202007.htm

Iowa’s farming model is poisonous (DSM Register 4-07)

Dear Editor,

A couple of months ago it was reported in the Register that the $800,000.00 fine imposed against Insituform as a result of the deaths of two of their employees from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning while working in the Des Moines sewer system was upheld. It is curious that for the 25 plus people killed from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning in hog confinements in Iowa, no company has ever been fined. Fecal waste in a closed structure always creates the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, no matter if it is in sewers or in agricultural confinements.

Contrary to the confinement deaths and 40 years of scientific studies showing the adverse affects on human health from these poison gasses, it now seems that what is left of the EPA under the Bush Administration wants us to believe that these gasses aren’t really poisonous when they come from agriculture. (“EPA wants exemption for livestock farms”, Des Moines Register)

Rural Iowans are being sacrificed because corporate America has chosen a petro-chemical/industrial model of agriculture which favors inputs and structures, over the environmentally and human health benign biological model which favors farmers’ labor and management. And now we are to grant a free pass for all the pollution, death and disease that comes with this industrial model. Where is the moral outrage at this state of affairs?

Request for Rural/Urban Cooperation

To: City Council.
Re: Request for Rural/Urban Cooperation.

Dear Council,

My name is Bob Watson. Because I would like a written response from the Council to the request I am making today, this request will be in written form. After reading it to you, I will give it to you.

We hear much about rural and urban Iowans working together to solve problems that we have in Iowa. It is in that spirit of cooperation that I am here today. Many times it is necessary to experience something to actually understand it. I am going to ask that you and your children share with rural Iowan’s and their children an ongoing rural experience. Hopefully, once you share that experience, we can work together in resolving this issue.

I will briefly describe the experience and its’ effects on rural people and their children. I will then talk about what technology is in operation in your city which would allow you to share this experience. I will mention how you can easily modify that technology so that you can share the experience. And, finally, I will formally ask you to share in that experience.

Among many confinement studies over the last 30 years, a study in Utah simply looked at hospital records pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community. Those records show clearly a tripling of illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. These illnesses are a direct result of the constant venting by those confinements of the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia into the neighborhoods around those confinements, and the contamination of the neighborhoods’ sources of drinking water by those confinements.

A study concerning proximity of confinements to rural schools in Iowa and the incidence of asthma among those schools students was conducted by the University of Iowa’s Dr. Joel Kline http://www.chestjournal.org/cgi/content/full/129/6/1486 . The overall rate of physician-diagnosed asthma in Iowa is about 6.7%. Two rural schools were in the study. One school had no confinement closer than 10 miles, and the other, a NE Iowa school, was ½ mile from a confinement. In the school which was 10 miles away from a confinement, 11.7% of the students were found to have asthma, double the Iowa rate. In the school which was only a ½ mile from a confinement, 24.6% of the students were found to have asthma, four times the Iowa rate.

In a recent study by James Merchant of the University of Iowa on asthma in children who live on a farm with a confinement http://www.ehponline.org/members/2004/7240/7240.pdf , it was found that after all other factors were accounted for, a shocking 55.8% of those children had asthma as a direct result of living on that farm with that confinement, nine times the Iowa rate for asthma. This study also found that antibiotics from the confinements are particularized and blown into the air along with the poison gases. We are constantly breathing not only poison gases from confinements but also antibiotics.

These are astounding rates of asthma, 11.7%-24.6%-55.8%, and increases of other illnesses for people, especially children, in rural Iowa who are in proximity to confinements.

All international, national and state health regulatory agencies, World Health Organization – Environmental Protection Agency – Occupational Health and Safety Agency to name some, know that hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are dangerous to people. There is no argument about that danger; the science is settled on this issue. We see the dangerous results of exposure to those gasses in the rates of asthma and other illnesses in people in the rural areas of Iowa.

Now, how is it that you and your children have the capability to share in this experience? What technology exists in a city which constantly creates the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia? The answer is – your sewers.

How do we know confinements and sewers are the same technology? Confinements and sewers both are closed structures. They both have untreated fecal waste in them. That waste constantly generates the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia in both confinements and sewers. People and animals need constant ventilation to survive in either a confinement or a sewer. The diseases and causes of deaths from those gasses are the same in sewers and confinements. That is how we know confinements and sewers are the same technology.

There are two major management differences. City sewers are designed to contain their poison gasses while confinements, having literally turned sewers on their head, are designed to constantly blow those poison gasses out into the surrounding neighborhood. Think of confinements as upside down sewers that exhaust their poisons, which people in the neighborhood then have to breathe, so that the pigs or chickens inside can stay alive. The second major difference is that your sewers are regulated by law.

So, how can you modify your sewers so that you and your children can share in the experience of having poison sewer gasses in your neighborhoods? And, this is my formal request of you today: Take the manhole covers off your sewers, put blowers down in those sewers and blow the poison sewer gasses out into your neighborhoods. After experiencing those poison sewer gasses and their health effects, hopefully, in the spirit of rural/urban cooperation, you will then want to work with your rural neighbors to resolve this issue.

Because part of what I am doing is documenting who can and cannot have these gasses in their neighborhoods, if you think sewer gasses in your neighborhoods might not be a good idea, or, if you think there might be some law, or other reasons, prohibiting you from blowing poison gasses into your neighborhoods, I would ask that you include what those reasons might be in your written response to my request. There are professionals employed by this city who work with these poisons on a daily basis. Your Wastewater Superintendent, Collection System Supervisor, or whoever keeps you in OSHA compliance, could tell you why my request should or shouldn’t be granted.

Thank you very much for your time and for considering my request that you and your children share in the continuing rural experience of breathing poison sewer gasses. (I will answer any questions you may have.)

Bob Watson

2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
563-382-5848

Is the Pork You Eat Raised in a Sewer? A Discussion of the Science Linking Sewer Pipes and Hog Confinement Buildings. Jan 2000
(original paper from the perspective of confinements as wastewater te
chnology)

We have unwittingly loosed an environmental disaster upon ourselves. We have inadvertently adopted parts of the sewer industry’s technology for our hog confinement systems without the federally required safeguards or the end sewage treatment process. We have taken a system used to transport raw sewage and inappropriately adopted it to raise meat for human consumption. It is my claim that if you eat pork raised in a confinement you are eating pork raised in a sewer pipe.

Both a sewer pipe and a hog confinement building are closed structures with raw sewage in the bottom constantly generating poison sewer gases. Some confinements have a storage tank directly underneath the hogs. Others have a slope system which collects the sewage which is then periodically flushed or pumped to an outside lagoon or slurry tank. Similarly, a sewer pipe is slightly slanted so that sewage flows downhill. Human sewage, unlike hog sewage, is ultimately treated and rendered safe to the environment.

As in a sewer pipe, sewage in a confinement building is constantly generating the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. If sewer personnel are to perform any work in a sewer environment, called a “confined space” in the industry, many federally mandated procedures must be followed, and federally mandated equipment must be used. These requirements are a result of understanding the whys of sewer industry related deaths and diseases from hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. One of the most important requirements is the ventilation of the work space so that workers are not overcome or killed by the poison gasses. Similarly, confinement buildings must constantly be ventilated so workers and hogs are not killed by these same gases.

Unlike the strict regulation in the sewer industry, which allows only short, regulated shifts in a confined space, workers in confinements have no education about or regulation of the dangerous environment in which they must work. That the two environments are the same is evident in the studies that have been conducted in both industries concerning the gases present, the diseases caused by those gases, and the deaths caused by those gases.

The scientific studies of hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia underpinning federal regulation of the sewer industry have been accepted for thirty years. Likewise, the federal regulations themselves have been settled law for thirty years and no questions exist about their correctness.

There are scientific papers studying these same gases, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, in confinements. Some of those papers are:

“Respiratory Dysfunction in Swine Production Facility Workers,” Kelley J. Donham, MS, DVM, Stephen J. Reynolds, PhD, CIH, Et.Al., American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1995.
“A Control Study of Health and Quality of Life of Residents Living in the Vicinity of Large Scale Swine Productions,” K. Thu, K. Donham, Et. Al., Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 1997.
“Air Quality Assessments in the Vicinity of Swine Production Facilities,” Stephen J. Reynolds, Kelley J. Donham, Et. Al., Journal of Agromedicine, 1997.
“Longitudinal Evaluation of Dose-Response Relationships for Environmental Exposures and Pulmonary Function in Swine Production Workers,” S. Reynolds, K. Donham, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1996.
“Field comparison of Methods for Evaluation of Vapor/Particle Phase Distribution of Ammonia in Livestock Buildings,” S.J. Reynolds, D. Journal of Agromedicine, 1997.
“Longitudinal Evaluation of Dose-Response Relationships for Environmental Exposures and Pulmonary Function in Swine Production Workers,” S. Reynolds, K. Donham, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1996.
“Field comparison of Methods for Evaluation of Vapor/Particle Phase Distribution of Ammonia in Livestock Buildings,” S.J. Reynolds, D.Y. Chao, Et. Al., Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 1998.

There are dozens and probably hundreds of other studies worldwide concerning gases and human diseases caused by those gases in confinement systems.
A sample from these studies will show they are concerned with some of the same gases and resulting diseases as are found in the Occupational and Health Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations concerning hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. From the confinement studies:

“Approximately 60% of swine production workers complain of at least one respiratory symptom, most of which are acute symptoms. Among this group of workers with respiratory symptoms, approximately 30% also experience chronic bronchitis, 30% have reactive airway disease, and 30% experience episodes of organic dust toxic syndrome. These conditions can be directly attributable to exposure to aerosolized dust and its biologically active constituents (endotoxin, allergens) in addition to gases such as ammonia and hydrogen-sulfide.”

“Compared to control populations of urban workers and crop farmers, workers in enclosed livestock environments have a higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms such as cough, phlegm, wheezing, and dyspnea. Confinement workers also exhibit decreased pulmonary function indicative of both chronic and acute effects (Boyer, 1974; Thelin,1984; Stahuliak-Berinc, 1977; Brouwer, 1986; Holness,1987; Donham, 1989;Reynolds, 1993; Donham, 1984; Muller, 1986; Petro, 1978).”

Pigs are affected by these gases the same as people. The original OSHA limits for humans in part were established, ironically, from studies on pigs. From the Federal OSHA Rules and Regulations:
“The ACGIH (1986/Ex. 1-3) believes that a 8-hour TWA limit is necessary for ammonia because a study by Stombaugh, Teague, and Roller (1960/Ex. 1-29) reports that pigs exposed continuously to 103 to 145 ppm ammonia reduced their consumption of food and lost weight. The ACGIH interprets this study to mean that systemic toxicity occurs as a result of chronic exposure to ammonia. However, OSHA interprets this study differently, believing instead that it shows a secondary effect of the irritation traditionally associated with ammonia exposure. That is, in OSHA’s view, these pigs stopped eating because they were experiencing too much respiratory and eye irritation to be interested in their food.” The more recent studies on humans indicate adverse effects from ammonia at concentrations as low as 7 ppm.

Now, from the OSHA studies on hydrogen-sulfide (which the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has measured at 30 times the federal limit at confinement sites):

“Summary of toxicology- Hydrogen-sulfide gas is a rapidly acting systemic poison which causes respiratory paralysis with consequent asphyxia at high concentrations. It irritates the eyes and respiratory tract at low concentrations. Inhalation of high concentrations of hydrogen-sulfide, 1000 to 2000 ppm, may cause coma after a single breath and may be rapidly fatal; convulsions may also occur. Exposure to concentrations of hydrogen-sulfide above 50 ppm for one hour may produce acute conjunctivitis with pain, lacrimation, and photophobia; in severe form this may progress to keratoconjunctivitis and vesiculation of the corneal epithelium. In low concentrations, hydrogen-sulfide may cause headache, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disturbances; in somewhat higher concentrations it affects the central nervous system, causing excitement and dizziness. Prolonged exposure to 250 ppm of hydrogen-sulfide may cause pulmonary edema. Prolonged exposure to concentrations of hydrogen-sulfide as low as 50 ppm may cause rhinitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, and pnuemonitis. Repeated exposure to hydrogen sulfide results in systemic effects that may result from concentrations previously tolerated without any effect. Rapid olfactory fatigue can occur at high concentrations.”

And the OSHA ammonia studies:

“Summary of toxicology- Ammonia vapor is a severe irritant of the eyes, especially the cornea, the respiratory tract, and skin. Inhalation of concentrations of 2500 to 6500 ppm causes dyspnea, bronchospasm, chest pain and pulmonary edema which may be fatal; production of pink frothy sputum often occurs. Consequences can include bronchitis or pneumonia; some residual reduction in pulmonary function has been reported. In a human experimental study which exposed 10 subjects to various vapor concentrations for 5 minutes, 134 ppm caused irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat in most subjects and 1 person complained of chest irritation; at 72 ppm, several reported the same symptoms; at 50 ppm, 2 reported nasal dryness and at 32 ppm only 1 reported nasal dryness.”

In effect, the diseases and dangers are the same in sewers and confinements, which you would expect, because the gases and sewage and closed environment are the same.

It has been mentioned to me the ag industry people are going to argue with the studies on confinements. I think that misses the point. Because sewage in a closed environment, generating hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, is common to both sewer pipes and confinements, we know for certain, from the federal studies, what the effects on humans and the hogs will be. I doubt the ag industry experts will want to argue with OSHA over its hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia regulations.

We know that humans in the confinement industry have died from sewer gases. We know that thousands of hogs in confinements have died from sewer gases. We know that people working in confinements suffer the same diseases as sewer workers. We know that pathogens associated with sewage and antibiotic resistant bacteria have been found in wells and waterways around confinements. We know that spills of untreated hog manure kill aquatic life the same as spills of untreated human waste. We know these sewer gases from confinements are constantly vented directly into the air and into the neighborhoods surrounding confinements.

So, we now know that sewer pipes and confinement systems are the same. I suggest to you that if you eat pork raised in a confinement, you are eating pork raised in a sewer. There can be no technological fix to make confinements safe because confinements, like sewer pipes, always have sewage and poison gases. Therefore, I believe confinements are an inappropriate technology for agriculture and Iowa, and should be immediately phased out. Environment-, people-, and pig-friendly systems exist today (such as hoop houses with deep bed systems) which can handle production without stinking up Iowa or harming or killing its people, its animals and its places.

Because this was an inadvertent rather than an intentional outcome of the rush to progress, I believe it is incumbent upon us all to share in the costs of the transition to non-polluting, non-dangerous technologies. We know what we’ve done, and, we know what to do about it.